How did we arrive at the financial mind-set we have today? How did that impact on our FIRE journey?
Our ‘About Us’ story tells you far more than you could possible want to know about why we became FIRE-seekers. And an awful lot about how we did it.
But it doesn’t really get into the underlying tale of why we took the path we did. With so many different ways to achieve FIRE, what made it the right choice for us?
How did we play the cards we’d been given to successfully (so far!) pull off this journey?
Like All Good Tales, Let's Start At The Beginning..
For many people it is easy to see why their attitude to money and finances is what it is. And often that stems from our upbringings.
What I find interesting is how most stories are either a tale of complete opposites or of repetition. Either learning from the experience and not wanting to repeat it – or seeing it succeed and adopting it for ourselves.
So – how about me?
My parents are both real salt-of-the-earth types. Smart but born in a time and of families when school beyond that which was mandatory wasn’t an option. Hard-working to a fault they’ve both held multiple jobs at once to make ends meet when starting out and buying their first home.
It paid off as they slowly but surely worked their way through life. A very typical story of both the time and the rural village we grew up in.
My mum would find any job she could that allowed her to still look after myself and my younger sister. I have some strange memories of being sent to play in the church pews whilst she cleaned each week!
My dad worked long days at the local poultry services firm. Working his way up from basic cleaning duties and into mechanical repairs, eventually running the whole engineering/repairs side of the business.
Financially, my mum would run the budget in our family. Keeping a close eye on everything in a meticulously maintained book. Keeping what was needed from the weekly pay packets.
My parents didn’t do debt beyond a mortgage. But as things became easier financially they didn’t do saving or investing either. A basic pension was about their limit.
Although there was never a lot of spare cash, what there was they enjoyed. They did and still do spend money as soon as they have it. If they don’t have it, they wait until they do. Neither of them ever into delayed gratification as a concept!
Family was and still is everything to both of them. Weekends would often be a day trip out somewhere local. Holidays very much the traditional UK British sea-side style. And yep, we had the caravan and everything.
So a real mixed bag of influences growing up for sure. What impact did that have on me?
Stating The Obvious..
One of the reasons I enjoy blogging is it gives me a way to think things through, to structure my thoughts.
Through completing this challenge, it’s been interesting to look back at what kind of influence my upbringing had.
The work ethic I can defn identify with. Something my sister said recently stuck with me which was;
As a family, we’ve always had to fight for everything
Nothing has ever come easy to any of us – but we tend to make it anyway. Call it bullheadedness or what you like, one way or another we get there.
Avoiding bad debt is another easy spot. Finances were not exactly a regular topic growing up. But through both example and attitude I learned early on that buying things with debt was not the way to do it.
So there’s two of the big cards in my financial deck – how about the others?
The Less Obvious Impacts
Two of my FIRE secret powers that helped me the most on our journey were (1) easily delaying gratification and (2) avoiding the lure of shiny things.
Both of these are in direct contrast to my upbringing. So where did they come from? If I think about it hard, I’ve just pretty much always been this way.
Even as a kid, there was little I wanted in terms of actual ‘stuff’. I was a nightmare at Christmas and birthdays – dreading the question “what would you like”. I rarely had anything to genuinely offer up.
I was a very content kid, far happier with the time spent playing a game together than getting a new toy. Family days out and holidays exploring far more interesting than new clothes or other such shiny objects. Curiosity was my middle name even then!
Likewise I was one of those kids happy in their own world. My mum always complains how much I take after my dad. Two peas in the proverbial pod. I’m pretty sure it was my tomboy status and refusal to wear anything other than jeans that upset her 😉
I think she forgets just how much of an influence she was growing up. A natural at making pretty much anything into a game as and when needed – or just for fun. Many happy memories of how her vivid imagination could turn the ordinary into the extraordinary in a minute.
Learning that ability to entertain myself without the need for expensive props was and still is priceless
And no, this isn’t a hark back to the “good old days” where a hoop and a stick were supposed to entertain for hours and kids were allowed to play in dirt. I’m not that old!
It’s just a recognition that despite not having as much as others around us, I never felt deprived. But then, I did get to play in the dirt 😉
So I was a pretty contented kid growing up. Not feeling a need for attention, loved, secure, happy. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Likewise, life in our family was simple, as it was for most of the village. The script was clear. Work hard, get married, have kids, work harder. Eventually hope for a good retirement through a simple pension and down-sizing.
Which begs the question – how come I didn’t follow it?
A Steep Learning Curve
My first departure from the expected path came when it turned out I was reasonably bright. Especially at maths and the like. It wasn’t something I was passionate about but it came easier to me than most.
So whilst dating and clubbing took their toll, the bleary-eyed young version of me still found herself with an unexpected university offer and no other idea of what to do with her life.
It was the first time I ever did anything really outside my comfort zone. Heck, it was also the first time for anyone to go beyond basic school in the entire wider family. My clan are not the great explorers by any stretch. Content in their world.
It may sound daft to today’s brand of confident go-getters but it was tough to go. Breaking that mould. Being different.
It was so worth it. Not for the learning or the eventual degree (in Maths, obviously 😉 ) But for the huge learning curve in how different life could be, had been for others. Getting to know such a huge range of people was a total eye-opener for me.
I learnt that taking a chance and getting outside my comfort zone was good for me, essential even. That’s stuck with me throughout life.
Financially I came out of Uni ok. A variety of summer jobs, a full grant and the ability to have a good night out on a £5 saw me though with only minimum loans as debt.
Onwards and upwards from here – right?
A Few Hiccups...
Like most, I took the first job I was offered upon leaving, happy to be earning anything.
That was big mistake number one. It was the dullest role ever, cashiering in our local building society. Upside – minimum commute from where I lived with my long-term boyfriend of the time. Downside – brain dead to the point of dreading each day.
It was a relief for both of us when the manager of the branch informed me they would not be renewing my annual contract. Funnily enough, I remember being upset at the time – hey, no-one likes to be told they aren’t needed.
But it was the best thing ever for me, I’d have taken a lot longer to leave on my own accord. On my final day there I received a call about a random job I’d gone for at Which? Magazine – would I like to start next week on a temp basis?
So as in much of my life – why not – let’s give it a go! The job was in London but wanting to continue to live with my ‘lurve’ I decided to commute. Painful but worth it. Like Uni, working in the vibrant city atmosphere again opened my eyes to life beyond what I’d grown up with.
Entertainingly the job was researching and writing about financial products. Defn one of those Steve Jobs “join the dots” later kind of things! It was also pretty much my first introduction to actually managing your finances on purpose and with intent!
More 'Learning Opportunites'...
With things on the up again – it was time for some life curve-balls. The first one came in the form of my long-term love unceremoniously dumping me out of the blue.
Heart-broken and instantly homeless with no savings. I’d been paying as much as I could towards bills et al on a low wage job. Not ideal. At least I got a decent set of saucepans out of it if not much else financially. Just a big lesson on managing joint finances better…
With few other options, I moved back home for the first time since leaving at seventeen. I will always be thankful that I never had a doubt my parents would be there for me for as long as I needed them.
But it was a giant and difficult step backwards in all ways.
Getting back up was tough but I did, as pretty much everybody does eventually. With a new (yet again randomly chosen) job and a new flatmate, I moved out after a year as soon as financially possible and started saving for my own place. Life was good again.
S & I got together about this point but financial trust took a while for both of us. I still bought my own place and we spent the next couple of years dividing up our time between the two of them.
We continued to build out the property business that S had already started down. Property was cheap in our area and it was a good bet back then. Saving rates were high and investing was as simple as saving cash in a basic account.
Adapting and Thriving
One of the big lessons of my life so far is that life will always have challenges – what makes the difference is how you respond to them.
Although we didn’t meet at work, it turned out S & I did both work at the same place. It’s a small town and it was one of the few well-paying gigs there, having to compete with the London trading houses who regularly poached staff.
So when our company collapsed as one of the downstream dominoes of the Enron fall-out, it was a bit of a shocker to both be facing redundancy at the same time. Very poor diversification 😉
After a brief freak-out, we used it as an opportunity. Investing our pay-outs into another couple of flats as buy-to-lets.
My skill-set was in demand so I found a “temporary” job back in London to live off and keep the mortgage guys happy. We agreed S would set about the DIY work and running our burgeoning property empire. Divide and conquer strategy at work!
And yes, we officially moved into one house, with all finances firmly as one now. You gotta make the leap of faith at some point and that was it for us.
We became a real team on a journey.
This was also the very early trigger for beginning our FIRE journey, even though we didn’t know the term existed for it back then. One look at the sea of old grey faces on my commuter train and I promised myself there and then I would not be in that place.
We wanted more from life than simply grinding out our time. A similar mind-set of valuing time and experiences above ‘stuff’. Creating a path that worked for us – not what was expected of us.
A Balancing Act To The 'Finish'
This part of the story will be familiar ground to those few regular readers out there. Saving to build our own home mortgage-free, complete with our own dodgy brickwork.
Maxing out our earning abilities. Another better paid job in London. Not following my passion but it wasn’t a total grind. A large global company full of opportunities to grow, learn and (mostly) interesting people. Climbing the career ladder.
All big steps on our journey. All supported by continuing to play to our strengths from those financial cards dealt.
Happy to delay gratification, wary of unhelpful debt.
Not being tempted to follow others down the path of bigger houses, flashier cars, exotic holidays.
Never scrimping so hard that we felt deprived.
Getting the balance right is a delicate act. Sometimes we’d veer too far one way and have to correct our course.
Such as when our property portfolio was taking over our lives. Whilst returns and political headwinds had turned against us. Cashing out whilst the going was still good. Looking to rebalance the portfolio – and our lives.
Finally finding other people online who had a similar approach to life about only working until they had “enough”. The FIRE gang of old. I still remember reading Dr Doom’s awesome “I Could Quit” series and not being able to get enough.
Knowing we weren’t entirely mad – that this was possible.
Learning for the first time about really investing our money, not just focusing on earning more ourselves. The different strategies and approaches people used. Our first foray into the world of ETF”s, P2P and other such investment choices.
Until that point it was possible to get 6% in a basic current account. Who needed to take any more risk?!? But as rates fell, our investment knowledge grew, as did our portfolio.
All a balancing act. Learning, adapting, working it out together.
Creeping ever closer to freedom.
The End And The Beginning
We finally pulled the trigger over two years ago now. Success!! The end of the path!!
Not really. True, life is fantastic but it’s been up to us to make it that way. It doesn’t just happen because you made it financially.
Life doesn’t stop when you reach your FIRE goal – it’s simply the next chapter
We’re still learning, experimenting. Seeing how our budget worked out – and where it didn’t. Adapting as needed.
Doubtlessly we will learn more as we continue on our journey. Adding to our deck of financial cards.
Here’s hoping we get a few aces and not a handful of jokers!